The Communication of Wisdom: The Nature and Impact of Communication and Language Change Across the Life Span
Nussbaum, Jon F. (2012). The Communication of Wisdom: The Nature and Impact of Communication and Language Change Across the Life Span. Journal of Language and Social Psychology October 23, 2012 0261927X12463009
Abstract: Wisdom has played a central role in the attempt to understand the positive nature of human behavior for more than 4,000 years. Neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists, and life span developmental scholars have joined this discussion in recent years to empirically investigate the physical and mental nature of wisdom. The social dimension of wisdom has not received as much scientific attention and is rather disjointed. I propose that communication scholars enter into this multidisciplinary discussion by placing communication and language at the core of the scientific study of wisdom and by investigating wisdom as enacted in our changing communication and language behaviors across the life span. An understanding and exploration of the communication of wisdom can significantly advance the positive role wisdom plays at both the individual and societal levels.
He wants to dream like a young man
With the wisdom of an old man
—Bob Seger (Beautiful Loser)
A family celebration honoring the 85th birthday of the family patriarch was being held
at a local winery. The celebrant’s wife, five children, their spouses (except one), and
numerous grandchildren were enjoying lunch on a very pleasant warm afternoon. The
oldest son had traveled 6 hours to the lunch but his wife was not with him. The celebrant
and this particular daughter in-law have had a “rocky” relationship with the
patriarch for more than 30 years. During dessert, the family’s patriarch, the birthday
“boy,” stood up to say a few words. After he talked about turning 85 for a few minutes,
he spoke directly to each child and grandchild sitting around the table stating how
each was special and how especially proud he was of his son-in law and daughters-inlaw,
never mentioning the missing daughter-in-law. As he continued to talk, and it
became very apparent that he intentionally skipped the missing daughter-in-law, the
oldest child, her husband, reached for his water and nervously took a sip. All eyes
were on this adaptive behavior. The patriarch slowed his speech to a pace that
appeared to signal the end of his talk. The anxiety in the room could be felt by all.
Several family members began to clap and to state out loud how much they loved him.
Slowly he lifted his head and looking directly at his oldest son, he purposefully and
forcefully stated that everyone could not be here and those who were not here are
missed, but he knew that those who were not able to make it send their very best
wishes and have important tasks to accomplish that have prevented them from attending
I have never witnessed a more strategic, well executed, multidimensional, family
communicative act. I consider this to be an example of wisdom enacted through
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